Forage

whole food ~ well made

red-wine braised beef with carrots

Slow Cooker vs Instant Pot: What’s the Best for Braising Meat?

Fall is the time to hearty braises, but should you use the Instant Pot, slow cooker or Dutch oven for meats? Here’s my take–with recipes.

This time of year is the official beginning of soup season. But it’s also time for one of my all-time favorite cooking techniques: braising. Also known as slow cooking.

It is the ultimate hands-free way to make dinner worthy of Sunday supper status–with built-in leftovers.

Fall is also the time when I get local meats into the freezer we eat all year. I just got my annual quarter share of a grassfed steer from Bunchgrass Beef. And I’ll be picking up a half hog from Square Mile Ranch this week.

So, while braising vegetables is also great, I’m going to focus on meat in this post.

Slow Cooking Meats

Best Braising Cuts

Hands down, the shoulder cuts from beef, pork and lamb make the most succulent braises like pot roast, brisket, pulled pork and lamb stew.

For beef, my favorite is the 7-bone pot roast and the runner up is the arm roast. Pork shoulder is often sold as Boston butt and picnic shoulder while lamb is labeled “shoulder roast.” For poultry, I always go for the thigh.

All of these cuts are exceptional for serving as a main dish, like those included here. Or, after braising them, you can turn them into a stew or soup, or use the meat for ramen or pho, gyros or tacos.

Red Wine-Braised Short Ribs
Short ribs take time, but very little attention. I recommend planning two days in total before serving so that you can cook them as long as needed to become tender and then to defat the broth. This recipe includes instructions for traditional braised short ribs, slow cooker short ribs and Instant Pot short ribs. You can substitute oxtails since they require the same technique for producing a luscious bowl of braised beef to serve over polenta (my favorite) or a host of other sides.
Check out this recipe
Slow cooker short ribs with polenta

Instant Pot vs Slow Cooking

You can slow cook any cut of beef, pork or lamb. But it’s a requirement for the large, muscled cuts of meat–like the shoulder, short ribs and other bony, sinewy cuts. They need low-heat cooking over a long period of time to become tender enough to eat.

Braising is the culinary term that typically involves browning the meat and them simmering it in a liquid, such as stock, wine or water.

Traditionally, it involves a Dutch oven with a fitted lid. This vessel provides a moist environment in the heat of the oven or over the stovetop. Electric slow cookers, aka crock pots, have made it safer for long cooking when we can’t be at home.

And then came the Instant Pot.

Coconut Chicken & Rice
A simple but sumptuous feast of coconut chicken and rice. To make this recipe, use your largest skillet with a lid that fits securely. Serve it with your favorite steamed green vegetable, such as broccoli, bok choy or snow peas.
Check out this recipe
Braised coconut chicken and rice recipe at lynnecurry.com.

A Question of Browning

I’m not big on appliances that just take up real estate in the kitchen. But I have adopted the Instant Pot, the famed multifunctional cooking tool.

For many, it has replaced the slow cooker, since it does that reliably and well. I use it regularly to cook rice and beans.

Browned short ribs

But because the Instant Pot introduced the sauté function into an electric cooker, it also opens up the possibility for braising meat.

The truth is that you don’t have to brown meats before slow cooking or braising. But I stand firm that if you do take the time to brown the meat well first, your dish will be lightyears tastier. Because browning is where the magic happens…

Mojo-style Roast Pork
This simple pork shoulder roast is a launching pad for a number of simple meals. Succulent and cooked in a citrus and garlic marinade, the pork is cooked until the meat shreds easily. Serve it as a Sunday supper meal the first time and use leftovers for dishes like tacos, gyros, sheet pan nachos or stew. Reserve the bone and trim from the pork for black bean and other soups.
Check out this recipe
Mojo-style pork roast with meat fork

The sauté function on the Instant Pot means that you don’t have to make the hard choice between dirtying a second pan or skipping the browning step.

I just set the sauté function for 10 to 12 minutes. Just insert the well-seasoned meat whole {if not too large} or cut into stew meat and allow to cook until it’s walnut brown.

Backward Braising

There’s another handy alternative if you don’t have time or patience for this step. Instead of browning before braising, you brown the meat in the oven afterwards.

Granted, it does require transferring the melt-in-your-mouth meats into a baking dish. But the results are to die for. I wrote all about this technique I call “backward braising” in Fine Cooking where you can also find my mouthwatering braised meat recipes, including:

Chile-rubbed braised beef
The Tex-Mex flavors of this fork-tender meat make it perfect for shredding and using in tacos, burritos, and even nachos. It’s also tasty on its own topped with the chunky slow-cooked sauce made right in the pot and served with rice. For best flavor, season the beef at least a day ahead.
Check out this recipe
Braised pork shoulder with fennel, garlic and herbs
The flavor combination in this braise is reminiscent of porchetta, and leftovers make a great sandwich. For the best results, season the pork at least a day ahead.
Check out this recipe
Porcini-rubbed red-wine braised beef
The deep, dark spice rub can make the meat look like it’s burned, but it’s most definitely not. A special-occasion dinner on its own, the beef is also delicious shredded for other uses. For best flavor, season the beef at least a day ahead.
Check out this recipe
red-wine braised beef with carrots

Slow Cook or Pressure Cook?

At this point, the Instant Pot provides two options: pressure cook or slow cook. Unless I’m crunched for time, I use the slow cook option for meats so that the fats dissolve into the liquid and slowly break down while the meat tenderizes.

I find that the meat can become a bit mushy with pressure cooking. In part, that’s because every cut of meat will cook at a slightly different rate. And pasture-raised meats, like grassfed beef, take longer for the fats to break down.

Since you can’t just open the pot when it’s under pressure. So, there’s no way to test when the meat is fully cooked but not overcooked. That’s the price of convenience.

Moroccan Lamb Stew with Chickpeas & Chard
This is a one-pot meal produced in the slow cooker with minimal hands-on work. Along with lamb braised in a tomatoey sauce, it contains chickpeas, chard and the optional addition of Israeli couscous for a hearty, complete meal to enjoy on even the busiest weeknight.
Check out this recipe
Morrocan lamb stew recipe at lynnecurry.com

Ready to Eat

Once the meat is falling off the bone, there is one final step for producing the best braise. That cooking liquid needs some love. No matter if I’m using a Dutch oven, slow cooker or Instant Pot, here’s what I do:

  1. Separate out the meat into a bowl, discard bones, sinew or excess fats, then slice, chunk or shred as needed.
  2. Skim the cooking liquid and thicken if needed by turning on the sauté function and adding a cornstarch slurry.
  3. Taste for seasoning, adding salt spices or fresh herbs to make it sing.
  4. Return the meats to the pot to heat through and serve with mashed potatoes, polenta, cooked whole grains and don’t forget the dinner rolls for soaking up the sauce.
Pot of vegetables and beef ready for braising at lynnecurry.com

I’ll never let go of my Le Crueset enameled cast-iron pot. But I’ve been using this new appliance more often than I ever thought I would.

It’s pretty amazing to walk into the kitchen, spend 15 minutes putting the finishing touches on a braise while the kids set the table and say, “Dinner’s ready!”

Subscribe

and become a forager

What are you slow cooking this fall? Let me know in the comments below or tag a photo #lynnesforage on Instagram or Facebook.

share your thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *